pameladean: (Libellula julia)
On Wednesday, Raphael and I went for our first expedition of the year, to see the ephemerals at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. To see the early ones at their peak we ought to have gone last week, but the weather didn't cooperate.

We got a reasonably expeditious start, especially for the first hike of the year, and even though we had to stop at my clinic so I could pick up my medication. We usually get off the freeway at the Northfield exit and go through town to pick up Highway 246, thus giving me a glimpse of Carleton and the Cannon River. But the GPS suggested staying on the freeway til the next exit, going instead through Dundas, and picking up 246 somewhat further along its length. Dundas is not Northfield, but I had fond -- mostly -- recollections of biking there from Carleton for a huge annual used-book sale. I didn't like biking along the shoulder of the road in the dust, but the books were excellent.

I had said to Raphael as I put on my fleece sweater and picked up my raincoat that I expected to be alternately too warm and not warm enough, and this prophecy was amply fulfilled. It was very sunny and intermittently very windy. Up in the picnic ground it was quite chilly. Down by Hidden Falls the air was almost still and the sun really beat down.

One of the pleasant things about Nerstrand is that there are ephemerals even in the picnic grounds and the campground. Anywhere the grass is not mown are trout lilies and false rue anemone and occasional other native wildflowers. You can see the tiny trout lily leaves spreading out through the mown grass. If Nerstrand ceases to be able to afford to mow its lawns, or civilization falls, the trout lilies will fill up all that mown space now occupied by grass, dandelions, and creeping charlie.

The Park Office was closed, so I sat on the bench they have on their west-facing porch and watched for birds while Raphael filled out the form for an annual park pass. One downy woodpecker and three or four little delicate sparrows with a rufous crown and a black eye line, were scratching around in the leaf litter under the bird feeder. And there was one white-throated sparrow, or what I took for one, though we didn't get a good identification until later. We had a sandwich at a very windy picnic table.

Then we walked through the campground, keeping an eye out for red-headed woodpeckers, but we'd arrived at the height of the afternoon and most birds were silent and absent. We went along the short gravel trail pointing out false rue anemone, purple and yellow violets, swamp buttercup, and the leaves of wild geranium to one another. Then we took the very steep path down to Hidden Falls. Larger patches of false rue anemone, clumps of wild ginger, nodding trillium, a few blossoms of cut-leaf toothwort; and as we got down to the damper areas, dark-green horsetail ferns and, below where a stream went down to join Prairie Creek, some marsh marigold blooming away. Things were intensely green and there were many flowers, but it looked strange to me. I finally realized that, while the false rue anemone was more or less on schedule, it would ordinarily bloom in a much emptier landscape where the understory plants were not leafed out, nor the wild geraniums so far along in their own growth. The trees would usually show just a hint, a mist of green, and you could see quite far into the woods because only the trunks and branches of trees and shrubs impeded your view. The view was much shorter and more cluttered this time. In some years there would hardly even be any violets yet, but they were thick along most of the damper trails that we took. And the spring beauty, while we did find some eventually, was not nearly as widespread as you would expect. We had also missed most of the Dutchman's breeches, though we did find a stalk or two here and there.

We went down the wooden steps to the rocky shore below the waterfall, and sat on a bench in the sun for a while. Clouds of tiny insects were dancing in the sun, coming together in a dense ball like a globular cluster and then bursting apart only to coalesce again. I was just about to point out to Raphael that they were a dragonfly's dinner without the dragonfly, when a green darner darted into their midst and started snapping them up. I made sure I had remembered to tell Raphael that Eric and I had seen darners at Eloise Butler, and Raphael told me there had actually been one in the back yard.

Eventually we got up and went back up the other side of the trail, the steeper side with steps. Last year we got to see the Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily in bloom, but it was done this year. There was plenty of false rue anemone, newly-opening ferns, early meadow rue with its flowers like little fringed lampshades, more violets, a little spring beauty, one or two blooming wild geraniums, fantastical ash buds, and hundreds of trout lily leaves, with here and there a patch of blossom in a shadier or cooler spot. At one point Raphael asked me what pollinated trout lilies; we thought it was bees but weren't sure. A little further along the trail, Raphael saw a bumblebee taking a good long time inside a trout lily flower, so that seemed to be that. We saw a number of bumblebees zipping around in the course of the day.

We climbed the trail and sat down on the bench that the park has kindly put just before the really steep part. The wind was fitful. All the green was fresh as fresh. The sky was almost autumnal in the intensity of its blue -- we thought this might be because the humidity was low, but we didn't know. It was hard to get up and go on up the hill, but we did. We came almost immediately upon a large number of extremely weird plants that we were fairly sure we had looked up before but failed to retain the name of. I think, having poked around online, that they were wood betony.

Once back at the top of the hill, we had a hunt for the yellow lady-slipper orchids we'd seen there just once, and then went back to the picnic ground and had another sandwich and took a different trail that crossed Prairie Creek and then gave us a choice of which way to go. We decided to take the White Oak Trail back downhill to the water, since it was such a dry spring; sometimes it's too wet to take the lower trail by the creek at all. The upper part of the trail was full of trout lilies, violets, and false rue anemone, with the occasional Jack-in-the-Pulpit or trillium. As we came down into lower and damper levels again, the false rue anemone came into its own. Along the creek banks it grew lushly with ferns and reeds and violets and some lovely clumps of blue wood phlox, which I think of as blooming much later. We stood on the bridge admiring the phlox on the other side for a while, and then walked on to the where the Beaver Trail intersects the White Oak, and sat down on yet another bench. The light was starting to mellow out, and everything was still the tenderest green imaginable, starred with flowers and yet-emerging leaves and dancing small insects. Several times we saw the shadow of a butterfly -- or maybe just of a blowing leaf.

At last we began the walk back along the creek to the steep trail with the steps. The flowers were still very lush and intermingled, but there were fewer ferns and grasses or reeds. At some point something in the soil or light changed, and the understory thinned out, and there was a bit of what I'd been missing: mostly bare shrubs arching over patch after patch after patch of false rue anemone. "So many windflowers!" said Raphael, and I looked at them closely. The air seemed quite still, but they were still moving just a little on their flexible stems.

Raphael suggested that we climb the half of the Hidden Falls trail that we had previously come down. The light was much better for seeing small things by then, and that half of the trail isn't quite so steep. The main discovery was a single hepatica blossom still hanging on in its nest of three-lobed leaves. The last third of the trail was a bit of a slog, and we sat on the bench at the top of the hill when we got there. The light was mellower yet. Through the green and gray of the woods a barred owl called, and again, and again, and then after a pause yet again. Eventually we went and sat on the porch of the park office. The tiny sparrows with the rufous caps, downy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, white-throated sparrows (we saw the white throat this time), and a single chipmunk, flew down to get seeds or suet, or kicked up the litter on the ground. You could hear the whoosh and ruffle of their wings as the birds came and went, and the scratch and rustle of the chipmunk's feet. There was some squabbling amongst the sparrows, and two nuthatches had a battle over the suet feeder. More distantly, we saw an elusive woodpecker that could have been a flicker or a red-bellied woodpecker; and finally we saw a flash of black and white and red as a red-headed woodpecker appeared briefly and then provided a glimpse, a longer look, another glimpse, always moving around to the other side of the tree or flying across the road to hide in trees with too much foliage. On our walk back to the car, a flash of black and red and white showed amongst the plants by the path. "It's a towhee," breathed Raphael, and it was, kicking up the litter much more violently than the sparrows had.

We had our last sandwich at a now really chilly picnic table, and Raphael got me to take the Sibley out of my backpack, and looked up the sparrows. Like the wood betony, they had been looked up before but we'd forgotten. They were chipping sparrows, and the first elusive woodpecker was indeed a red-bellied one.

We drove home in sunset and twilight. Then we had to come back to earth and do the year's first tick check, but that's just part of going hiking.

Pamela
pameladean: (Libellula julia)
Last Saturday Eric and I borrowed Lydy's car, since she had plans that did not require it, and went to the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. We'd missed the previous week because Eric was out of town. It was a chilly, cloudy day, but we'd decided not to try to cram the garden into Sunday along with grocery shopping and hearing Sister Tree at the Powderhorn May Day celebration.

The steps down to the front gate were lined with the spotty leaves of Virginia waterleaf, which blooms somewhat later than now. But off a few feet in the woods was a glimmer of rue anemone, all pale pink, with their varying numbers of flower petals and their three-lobed leaves. Just outside the gate, the wild ginger leaves were big and all unfurled. Inside the gate the vivid gold of wood poppies and a patch of false rue anemone, five-petalled white flowers and little clutches of three leaflets, waved in the wind. A patch of white trout lilies was blooming on the upper part of the path that leads down to the shelter. After dithering a moment, we went downhill past the shelter and through the woods to the far side of the garden, overlooking the swamp. Virginia blubells were blooming richly, looking ethereal in the strange overcast light. There were more wood poppies. Elderberry bushes were blooming. All the trillium that had been in bud was blooming. The trout lilies that had been blooming two weeks ago were mostly done. Their gray-green, spotted leaves lay in overlapping layers as if someone had raked them all in one direction; maybe borne down by the ample rains of the last week or so. There were brilliant patches of moss hopefully holding up its fruiting bodies.

The heptatica was done, but white, purple, purple-and-white, and the tiny yellow violets bloomed along the same path. Two weeks ago I told Eric that certain plants were either tall meadow rue or early meadow rue; now I could say that they were definitely the former. We had avoided the marsh last time because it had been so wet, but now we decided to go at least as far as the fine new boardwalk, raised some feet above shallow water and mud scattered with the now-huge green leaves of skunk cabbage, would take us. More Virginia bluebells, the leaves of flag iris, the first pale soft new needles of the tamaracks, and a wide swath of marsh marigold, with smack in its center a sign saying, "Swamp Saxifrage." We discussed, as we went past the end of the new boardwalk, admiring the new red-banded green horsetail ferns, whether the name of the marsh marigold had been changed. I eventually looked up swamp saxifrage, and it's something entirely different that clearly blooms later in the year, since there was no sign of it now. We came around the bend of the path and saw a tom turkey. Around him here and there, tearing up grass and shoots and resolutely ignoring him, were four hen turkeys. We admired their green and bronze, and the general magnificence of the tom. He ruffled up his dark back feathers once or twice, but decided not to actually go to the trouble of spreading his tail.

We went on up the hill, looking at fern fiddleheads, some covered with fine hairs that made them look gray, some growing tidily in the circle of the rust- or cinnamon-colored fronds of last year's greenery, some still reddish with just a hint of green. We came back to the area around the shelter and decided to go left past the huge patch of periwinkle and up the steep hill to the meadow. On our left as we went ferns were coming up all over; on the right were wood poppy and false rue anemone and finally the periwinkle, blooming happily away. We sat down on a bench for a few moments. We had been hearing a pileated woodpecker laughing in the distance, and as we sat it flew over our heads, landed on a tree halfway up the hill, let us see it for a few seconds, and ran around behind the tree trunk. Then it flew on up the hill and disappeared.

We went up the steep hill to the meadow and found that they had burned most of the near side since we were last there. There was not much going on in the meadow yet even where it had not been burned, but we went up the hill past the juniper tree to look for prairie smoke. The wind hit us with a huge gust as we labored up the slope, and almost blew my hat away. We did see a patch of prairie smoke, not yet open; and standing on the hill briefly we turned to admire the grove of paper birches, now in small green leaves, and saw a little redbud in full bloom at their feet. We went under the arch of the wild plum that frames the entrance to the meadow. It was blooming but past the best. We did see another wild plum in full bloom on the other side of the garden, but I can't recall quite where now. It had a lovely scent.

We decided that it was chilly and getting dark, and we had had a fine time, so we went on down through the white pines and out the front gate and so back to the car and dinner at Pho Tau Bay.

Pamela
pameladean: (Libellula julia)
The new medication seems to be settling down. I did take it separately from the blood pressure medications, but now of course I don't know if it would have settled down anyway or whether I need to continue to eat two small breakfasts half an hour apart. Oh, well.

I went over to [livejournal.com profile] arkuat's to look after Toliman. He was very purry. He sniffed the air when I opened the window, but didn't want to go out on the porch. The neighbors' dog was barking in a desultory way, so maybe that was why. I unpacked some books, with a lot of underfoot supervision.

I am having terrific difficulty getting the direction and timing of the 9 bus right, so after missing one and having the next one drive right by me as if I were invisible, I just walked up to Lake Street and waited for a 21. It is probably just as well, because the transfer point between the 9 and the 23 is at the same intersection as Mother Earth Gardens. I wouldn't buy plants on the way over to cat-sit because it would be too cumbersome, but on the way home I would have no such defenses. The fact that I haven't cleaned the hairy bellflower and motherwort out of the places that I might plant things is no deterrent.

The stop I use to get the 21 is right across the street from Merlin's Rest. The sidewalk outside the pub was full of Morris dancers, people in kilts, people in fancy dress of other sorts, and a leavening of people in jeans and T-shirts. As I crossed 36th Avenue I saw half the Morris dancers staring at me, or maybe over my shoulder, so when I gained the curb, I looked back. A young man dressed like Prince (purple coat, frothy white shirt, the right hair) was just crossing Lake Street.

While I waited for my bus, one of the men in kilts played three tunes on the bagpipes, and some of the other people danced line dances. The bus was full of congenial people doing Saturday things. But when I got off to transfer to the 18, there was a police van parked just beyond the intersection, a man lying in one of the shrubbery beds belonging to the White Castle, and two police officers. Eventually an ambulance came and they put him into it and took him away. My thoughts of what might have happened were perhaps somewhat biased by many recent events.

The Norway maples are still blooming, but the silver ones have small leaves. I heard house finches singing extempore every time I listened hard.

ETA: I checked Merlin's Rest's website. April 23rd is their ninth anniversary, and that is why they had Morris dancers and bagpipers. It is also, they informed me, St. George's Day.

Pamela
pameladean: (Default)
Three hikes, behind an LJ cut for your convenience, and in rather less detail than some earlier ones:

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park )

Frontenac State Park )

Crow-Hassan Park Reserve )

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